Storytelling

 

Unknownis the title of a new book by Paul Feldwick about the history of thinking about how to create effective advertising. It is short, clearly written (as you would expect of PF) and full of fascinating stories.
Any one in the biz should read it.
Some of the things found interesting
Many people in the biz do not know this history.

Often this results in practices not being critically examined. “Creative briefs” (which most agencies use) contain phrases like “Target Audience”,”What is the single thing we what to say ?” and “what are the reasons to believe ?” that come from an era when people (Like Rosser Reeves) thought that we actively processed information and should be targeted individually  Two things.  1) We now know -thanks to Kahneman,Robert Heath and others- that a great deal of comprehension is rapid, instinctive, subconscious and depends heavily on context. “The Creative Brief’ may be mechanism we use to have a rational discourse about advertising so that we can design it, but in practice that is not how it will work when people see it. As important as ” the proposition” are creating associations that attach themselves to a brand through imagery, music,stories and characters.   A lot of people know this. But we engage in a “benign conspiracy” to let the creative people have their way. The ads may work but often not in the way we pretend they work when we are in meetings.

In recent years a lot of work has been done to prove that emotion and fame in advertising work better than rational persuasion (See Binet and Field excellent reviews of the IPA effectiveness awards). This has surely helped Adam and Eve sell their recent work to John Lewis. Rational folk (most clients who have to report to boards, also rational) now have an evidence based case for backing emotion and storytelling over rational propositions ( or at least ensuring that the propositional works is separate but integrated.). But in spite of this many persist with the old rationally based tools for developing the ads. In my experience of teaching this is because many time pressed agency executives have either not the time or the inclination to get acquainted with this large body of work from the IPA

The story I found most interesting is how the idea of advertising as rational and consciously processed came to be promoted by the likes of Rooser Reeves and acronyms like AIDA. It was a reaction against the toxic argument that admen were engaged in subconscious manipulation put about by a muck racking journalist called Vance Packard in his book The Hidden Persuaders. 

The 50s and 60s was a time of paranoia in American life and the last thing the admen wanted was to be associated with skulduggery- or a power that could be put to evil purposes. “Motivational Research” was hot in the 1950s. It purported to uncover our subconscious drives but it became a dirty word. The admen closed ranks and colluded in the idea that everything was above board and if any manipulation was going on it was just a form of creative charm magicked up by the creative teams.

Understanding that communication works in lots of different ways and that no one theory is complete is Paul Feldwick’s theme.

It is a good warning against endism as well. The arrival of a new technology or new medium ( such as the internet, or mobile or the Internet of things) always causes some pundits to announce the death of the old way of doing things and a new beginning with new rules.  Paul anatomised this mentality as The Year Zero Narrative and i have heard it a lot among digital folk over the past 10 years. It takes the form not of argument but assertion that ad agency people “just don’t get it”, that “people have fundamentally changed” and are “empowered” and so communication works differently. Now, I think that it is true that there has been radical democratisation of power that has changed the culture and context in which brands operate. Brands do need to offer value to “the empowered” more than before – mobile apps, good service, click and collect delivery etc etc. So there is a big change in behaviour and use of devices and services.

But this is not the same as saying that there has been a fundamental change in human nature and how we process information.

TV advertising is in rude health. Yet it is worth recalling that digital evangelists (about 10 years ago)  predicted the death of “Interruption” at the hand of empowered people using the web and the likes of Sky+ to avoid ads. So perhaps we still like well told stories with wit, characters and music and are prepared to entertain well designed commercial messages.

Calling this “interruption” was a way of dismissing it by giving it an unattractive label. It is an assertion.  But it is not an evidenced based argument.

If you believed the pundits 10 years ago  we should all now be suffering from a form of collective attention deficit disorder – yet we now like multi episode boxed sets. I have just spent several days worth of my life in immersed the world of Breaking Bad. Perhaps it is a reaction. All hyped trends have counter trends.

The Year Zero narrative also is practiced by people who have an interest in the dismissal of the established way. So the next time we read that everything has changed in the communications world at the hands of (say) mobile brandishing millennials or the internet of things we should pause and remember

1) The eternal latin/Italian question “cui bono?”

2) Nobody successful sold out a conference by saying not much has changed

 

The Ofcom annual report on the UK communication market  2014_UK_CMR 2 is a treasure trove of data

These data on the rapid growth of Tablet ownership – even among the over 55s- set me thinking about how it might change culture-rapid mass behaviour change normally makes waves

 

 

 

1

Some thoughts

Tablets-At last a device for pleasurable browsing

Smartphones are great for more functional transactions and checking Facebook- but not really for browsing. Laptops are seen by many as work tools. You wouldn’t really want to sit up in bed and browse YouTube on it. But tablets make the whole web experience more like the promise. Fast broadband means an end to irritating buffering and slow downloads at home. 4G, increasingly, delivers broadband on the move.

Multimedia online magazines- video with everything

You can see the signs of this future now. Online media brands (which may still betray their origins in print) are becoming multimedia brands for all ages. MailOnline is a good barometer of change: it has always understood that its audience is attracted by images and personalities rather than text and now most stories feature video too. Check out all their celeb stories on any given day and the team at MailOnline will lever in a video even if the relevance to the story is a tad tendentious. I reckon they fancy some of that pre-roll advertising that has done so well for Youtube (In fact Youtube call this trueview and argue that it is superior to pre roll as you choose to watch).

Youtube embraces all ages

Most videos on YouTube are still pitched at the young. But now Jamie Oliver is committed to developing his you tube channel – and he appeals to all ages from grannies to kids. If you want to know how to do something – from mending a washing machine to doing your hair in the style of Game of Thrones to making lasagna- then there is probably a video about it. Young people know this already but older people are learning fast.

Prediction:senior Zoellas soon

In just a few year mums and dads learnt to Facebook like their kids. I expect the oldsters like myself to start vlogging like their kids. Who will these mature vloggers be? The mums and dads of the new young generation of vloggers are candidates as are a whole host of well-known faces “off the telly” who are hungry for a boost to their career and profiles. Or it might be oldsters we have never heard of before – after all, 3 years ago Zoella was an unknown. Or all three.

 

 

EM Forster

EM Forster

One of the shortest explanations of our profound need for stories comes from EM Forster,

with these two lines

“The King died , and the queen died”

” The King died , and the queen died of grief”

The first line plays to our deepest fears – that life is just a series of random events. You are born and  you die and not much between is certain or fated – except perhaps ( as Woody Allen pointed out ) taxes. No. that won’t do – we need there to be some meaning and for events to be linked with causation  and patterns to give us the feeling that we can make sense of randomness. Which is why we do not just like stories, we need them. Stories are necessary lies.

The second line is also- whilst longer-much more memorable because it is the fragment of a story we can both participate in it and use it to conjure up mental pictures- In this case of grief and what grief looks like.

No wonder that  proselytisers of religions  and  marketers of brands (who are  is in the business of both imparting meaning and being  remembered) use stories.

 

There are emerging trends and then there are fully emerged trends

If you take the  Cannes 2013 awards as a guide  then the idea that brands should take on public spirited causes is now a fully emerged trend

I mean by this not just a commitment to being responsible  in the way they do business. No this is something altogether more high profile.

In this years  awards many of the award winners- a majority perhaps- were companies communicating how they are working on behalf of citizens and championing public spirited causes

Such as these campaigns

  • IBM making billboards into seats and shelters for weary travellers.
  • Dela Dela Funeral Insurance encouraging us to be nice to relatives, before they die.
  • Channel 4 saluting Paralympic athletes.
  • Smart Communications providing textbooks for poor schoolchildren using old mobile phones.
  • Dove encouraging women to value their own beauty.
  • Oreo cookies celebrating diversity.
  • Recife Football Club encouraging organ donation.
  • P&G has become the worlds proud sponsor of mums ( that last one is quite a turnaround- when i started in the biz they were an anonymous chemical company)

What is the thinking behind this? It is  based on the belief that people don’t just buy what you do, they also buy why you do it.

Put another way the model is this-

“Love my values,

Love my brand,

Buy my product or service ( at a premium)”

Is it working ? Well Nielsen have just published some research that suggests that it does –

The proportion of consumers willing to pay more for goods and services from companies engaged in corporate social responsibility has increased to 50% globally, according to new research.
The study from market researchers Nielsen also found that 43% of global respondents have actually spent more on products and services from companies that have implemented programmes to give back to society.
That represents just 7% fewer than those expressing willingness to do so and comes amidst signs of a rising trend of goodwill towards socially responsible brands.
Credit should go to Unilever with their 5 levers of change and to the Dove team- the big players who were at in the start of this recent trend .
But i don’t think they invented it – “Love my values love my brand” marketing is really a classic challenger brand strategy as explained by Adam Morgan in Eating the Big Fish. People who pioneered this trend go further back like the late and highly visionary Anita Roddick with The Body Shop. It is just that the rest of the marketing world has taken a long time to catch up with Anita
Roddick was well ahead of her time - a true pioneer

Roddick was well ahead of her time – a true pioneer

But why this trend now ? Like a lot of emerged trends, There is not just one factor but a combination
– Follow my leader: when Unilever and P&G do something big time, others follow
– Marketing and business theory. John Kay in Obliquity and Jim Stengel in Grow have made the business performance case ; Companies that purely pursue profits ( aka The Shareholder Value School)  do less well than those who try to do the right thing. And sometimes doing the right thing means championing causes.
-Staff motivation: people are not just motivated by money. They prefer to work at and perform better at places ( private or public sector) that pursue a higher purpose.
-Customer service: Staff who are believers (and not just mercenaries) deliver better service. Companies like John Lewis for example.
– Premium pricing – if Mintel is right we pay more to companies that give back to society
– Communications effectiveness; It gives a company or brand a true story to tell – one that is worth telling in film (still the most moving of media) and a story to  pass on through networks and through social media. Stories worth talking about and participating in.

When the history of the 21st century comes to be written one big theme will be the rise and rise of Islam. A complex issue of course but to a marketers eyes there is a simpler truth: Islam is based on much better brand marketing principles. By this i means it has much better ideas about how to secure peoples commitment and give people a sense of belonging – two things that really successful brands do. (The closest we come to it is Apple and Steve Jobs – a kind of flawed secular saint who built temples to technology)

Consider the obvious strengths of the 5 Pillars of Islam

-There are only 5 not 10 – few people can remember the 10 commandments- so when it comes to the battle of the easy to understand and easy to remember mission statements Islam wins hands down

-Islam Pillars involve clear directions to do things not injunctions to stop doing things ( most of the 10 commandment are prohibitions). Few people remember or feel committed to things they have not done. In fact most of our professed attitudes are self rationalisations of actions we have already taken

-In the Hajj, Islam has set up the Glastonbury of all pilgrimages. It is big,it is global, it is a joyful experience, it is well organised, it is much anticipated and much celebrated afterwards in the stories of those returning from Hajj- and all Muslims want to be a part of it.Chaucer showed us that the stories of pilgrims are powerful expressions of shared experiences but it is Muslims who have the stories to tell today.

The Hajj enjoys what marketers call “the brand leader effect” -the biggest brand in any market has disproportionate power. All Muslims understand that they should go on Hajj which has one famous location in Mecca. A tiny minority of Christians may make it to Rome or Santiago to Compostella.

Islam also wins the broadcast  Share Of Voice (SOV) argument by a distance. Christian churches may peel their bells once a week on Sunday mornings but the Muazzin declaims the call to prayer to the local community 5 times a day from a load speaker mounted in the minaret of the mosque. That’s a SOV of 35:1 in favour of Islam. So, Islam is simply more present in communities, more woven into the fabric of daily life and therefore more of an automatic habit- something that is also at the heart of Coca Cola’s success as a brand (as well as the rise of the coffee brands like Cafe Nero). Muslims may not thank me for making a connection with this symbol of western materialism but but both Islam and Coca Cola understand the importance of ( as Coca Cola once expressed is so poetically) of being “within an arm’s reach of desire”.

Storytelling was a hot topic at Social Media Influence 2011- but this is not the neat finely honed story-telling as we know it. You know what I mean- one author carefully crafting a tale with a beginning a middle and an end.

No, this is much more like improvised comedy – it can start anywhere and you don’t know quite where it will end up. Steve Frost or Paul Merton are masters of this art- a topic is mentioned (an animal, a person, an historical figure, a sound, a mood) and off its goes passing in a chain from one to another taking unpredictable twists and turns, until it runs out of steam.

This insight (from Andy Whitlock of Poke) points up both the joy and weakness of this freeform multi- authored form of storytelling.

It can be fresh and take unpredictable, surprising directions but it can also end up being (well) a bit tedious and time consuming- an activity for those with plenty of time on their hands. There is only so much “co-creation” that the average person can find the time for.

No surprise then that the counter-trend is also true- we still love traditional advertising storytelling in social media. I mean by this those beautifully crafted little dramas in 30 or 40 or 60 or even 90 seconds featuring characters- human, animal and plasticine- that made British advertising the most famous in the world in the 1980s and 1990s.

Its is unfashionable to say so but these are still very powerful -no wonder that John Lewis and VW have been so successful with them in the past 12 months. They could have been made 15 or 20 years ago.

Andy Whitlock also makes the point that a big part of the great success of the Old Spice campaign is not just the clever use of twitter to improvise the campaign direction by talking back to tweets but also the fact that each ad uses traditional advertising craft skills- pitch perfect comedy scripts, casting and direction.